With spring in full bloom and vacations being canceled across the region for the foreseeable future, families are scrambling to find a way to entertain their kids while stuck at home. Luckily, a classic camping trip can be done almost anywhere. With a little planning, many people can transform their yard into an amazing camping space for some quality family time outside. Rachel Doody, park manager at Potomac Overlook Regional Park, shared some tips for parents on how families can take their annual camping trips to the backyard.
How can parents recreate their canceled camping trip in their backyard?
I think part of it is going to be starting with what equipment they have, if there was anything they were planning on renting or getting from a facility that they might have been going to, like a tent, a sleeping bag, sleeping pads, anything like that.
Also, I think camping outside is not quite the same if you don’t have a campfire, so finding a spot and really making sure that it is not around anything else. If a spark were to jump under a tree, are you by some brush? Just really finding a good location that the campfire and the tent can also be far enough away from each other.
What safety tips and guidance can you give for having a fire in the backyard?
I would say if you have a space on the ground, you definitely want to line it with rocks if you have the ability to. You don’t want to line it with logs or anything else that might actually catch fire.
Sometimes wood will have a wetness to it that will make things pop and when they pop, often sparks will go off. Thankfully in Virginia, right now, we’ve had a plethora of rain water, so nobody’s lawn should be suffering at this moment, but just in case, keep an eye on it. Also a backyard fire shouldn’t be a bonfire, it should be something small and simple.
What are some activities that can transfer over to the backyard?
I’ve done a lot of travel around the U.S., going to national parks, and you get to see big, massive animals and things soaring above your head, but I don’t think everybody always realizes that there is still a little mini zoo just in the space in your backyard.
One of the cool activities I have done in the past with kids is if you just have a hula hoop or something to mark off a space, the kids get a piece of paper and they have to sit and get down on the ground with a magnifying glass and search that little space in the backyard. It’s amazing how many different things and little critters and creepy-crawlies they might find just searching in that tiny space.
How do you limit those at-home distractions and screen time while staying in the backyard?
It’s tough because here at our nature center one of the things we are having to start to realize is that technology is following us everywhere we go. We are trying to combine it a little bit, so it may be that you do have your phone, but you’re using your phone in a cool app that identifies plants.
If you’ve got to have your technology with you, find something that’s a more calming or educational way of using it and put it on airplane mode so nobody’s actually contacting you while you are using it for something else. The best would be to leave it inside if you can and find other ways to keep yourself entertained that don’t require a plug.
Any extra tips for having a successful family camping trip at home?
Check the weather. That would be my No. 1 tip. It shouldn’t just be about the day. I think one of the worst things is there are these experiences where if you are not set up for success, especially on your first time, you are going to have the worst taste for that forever.
Make that first experience as good as it can possibly be and if you look at the weather forecast and there is a chance of rain or thunderstorms, or the ground is all soggy or it is just going to be really cold that night, change it to a different day.
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